Islamic rights group CAIR says “ADL Seeks to Hinder Legal Rights of U.S. Muslims”

It’s clear why the folks at CAIR, the country’s largest Islamic civil rights group, finally decided they’ve had enough. It’s impossible to argue with their recent press statement accusing

the Anti-Defamation League (ADL http://www.adl.org/) of seeking to hinder the due process rights of American Muslims by using “smears and exclusionary tactics” that exploit growing Islamophobia in American society.

CAIR went on:

… those smears appeared in a recent ADL news release targeting members of a coalition defending the legal rights of officials of the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) Muslim charity currently on trial in Texas. In its release, the ADL falsely claimed that members of the coalition have been “tainted by their own murky associations with radical organizations and individuals.”

(As the Los Angeles Times just reported, an Israeli intelligence officer testified that “none of the overseas charities [The Holy Land Foundation] supported has appeared among hundreds of names on U.S. government terrorist lists.” This severely weakened the government’s case against the Holy Land Foundation).

Much of Abe Foxman’s press release features unsubstantiated innuendo more worthy of a tabloid than a civil rights organization (which, again, is a terrible waste, because it makes it impossible to separate the valuable things the ADL says about genuine hate groups from this sort of blatant propaganda).

Foxman said

“These groups are tainted by their own murky associations with radical organizations and individuals and, in some cases, expressions of solidarity with terrorist groups targeting Israelis.”

Foxman offers little evidence for his accusations. But in the current climate, simply accusing a person or group of sanctioning terrorism has the same effect that tossing around accusations of communism did fifty years ago.

The ADL backgrounder on CAIR on which the press release is based is even worse.

Filled with chains of associated people and controversial issues on which CAIR takes “the wrong side,” the list is long and, in fairness, certainly does show that CAIR, reflecting much of the Muslim community, is deeply critical of Israel and its practices. This will fill many with a feeling that, yes, CAIR does condone terrorism or does not object to targeting Israeli civilians, despite the clear stances by CAIR opposing such things. At no point, however, does the ADL backgrounder offer a shred of evidence to support the accusation that CAIR is anti-Semitic, that CAIR supports terrorism, or even that CAIR questions Israel’s right to exist.

The backgrounder features such shocking revelations like:

April 2007: Hussam Ayloush told In Focus, a CAIR affiliated publication, that “there is a well-coordinated attempt by extremist pro-Israel circles to silence American Muslims.” The article, “Pro-Israel groups target American Muslims,” argued that criticism of CAIR by “right-wing pro-Israeli groups” is motivated by a desire to prevent all Muslims from acquiring “influence in the political and social arenas.” According to In Focus, “CAIR officials say such attacks seek to marginalize the American Muslim voice and disenfranchise this minority.”

February 2007: CAIR began actively promoting President Carter’s book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid,sending complimentary copies to public libraries.

August 28, 2006: CAIR hosted professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt for a discussion about the “Israel Lobby” and the war in Lebanon at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. CAIR’s director, Nihad Awad, argued that the “American government offers unconditional support for Israel and its occupation and humiliation of its neighbors.” He further claimed that “our one-sided support for Israel is a liability in the war on terror…America’s Middle East policy should be based on our nation’s interests, not on those of a powerful domestic lobby for a foreign government.”

The ADL’s deliberate conflation of criticism of Israel, and anti-Semitism, validates CAIR’s charges that this is not a civil rights issue but a political one.

The ADL won’t get very far saying “We hate CAIR because we disagree with their political analysis,” but they will get far using the ultimate weapon at their disposal: calling them terrorists.

And this is terrible for everyone, when people of all faiths and ethnicities should be working together to root out all forms of brutal killing of civilians, whether by individuals, groups or states.

To be sure the United States is at war and sensitivities are justifiably high in the post 9/11 era. And, it is a war we have in large part exacerbated through bringing chaos to Iraq, and our tendency to demonize Muslims, who comprise some 1.5 billion people throughout the world.

The desire to create a false consensus on Israeli policy has led to numerous efforts to silence dissent–we at Jewish Voice for Peace know this because it has happened to us repeatedly, and in ways we never imagined.

But efforts to silence Muslims and people of Arab descent who refuse to toe the party line reach an order of a completely different magnitude: they are not just silenced, but criminalized. At stake is not just free speech, but actual lives and livelihoods.

As we’ve noted before- the ADL does valuable work against bigotry, and they also see themselves as a pro-Israel organization. They were vocal defenders of Arab school principal Debbie Almontaser, who is Muslim, by attacks from right-wing groups. They also have a long history of exposing hate groups and not only those that target Jews.

But when dealing with civil or human rights issues that come into conflict with ADL’s support of Israel “right or wrong,” the latter wins out. The irony, of course, is that this kind of simplistic thinking and narrow definition of protecting Israel‘s interests actually harms Israel, and puts Jews at risk.

ADL says it wants to protect civil liberties. ADL says it wants to fight against bigotry. The ADL once linked Jewish liberation to the liberation of all peoples. The ADL says it stands against the harming of civilians. And when they and the many good staff members and supporters do this work, we give them a standing applause.

But for an increasing majority worldwide that refuses to close our eyes to the extraordinary suffering of Palestinians, and the ongoing conflict which continues to take Israeli and Palestinian lives, it’s hard to maintain respect for an organization when, as CAIR says

“CAIR and other American Muslim organizations have consistently condemned terrorism, including attacks on Israeli civilians, while the ADL has remained silent about the abuses suffered by the Palestinian people under occupation.

CAIR continues

“For too long, the ADL has allowed its blind support for Israel‘s brutal policies toward the Palestinians and its zero-sum approach to public debate on the Middle East conflict to unnecessarily poison relations between the Jewish and American Muslim communities.

“We call on the ADL to end its campaign of exclusion and to join with American Muslims in seeking to make our nation one that is both safe and free of intolerance and hatred.”

Including American Muslims in coalitions working towards justice and fairness for all, and not demonizing them because they might criticize Israeli policy, is work worthy of the ADL. It remains to be seen if they can ever fully deliver.

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